Guys, I love sarcasm. It’s a heady, delicious treat I eat up on the hour. But even I have my sarcasm limits. Case in point: Gawker writer Hamiliton Nolan’s response to a piece by xoJane writer s.e. smith about the western appropriation of Eastern religion, specifically in the context of yoga, and whether someone with an atheist viewpoint should really practice yoga. I’m not going to get into that, because I personally hate yoga and can’t understand why people are always freaking out about it. Howevs, it’s how Nolan wrote about s.e.’s piece that’s super irksome.
Throughout the piece, Nolan referred to smith by the pronouns her/she, which is not how s.e. identifies. When the Gawker piece came out, a couple members of the xoJane team wrote in to let Nolan know that s.e.’s preferred pronoun is “ou.” s.e. has written about preferring “ou” before, and even mentions it in ou’s xoJane bio: “s.e. smith is a writer, agitator, and commentator based in Northern California. Ou focuses on social issues, particularly gender, prison reform, disability rights, environmental justice, queerness, class, and the intersections thereof, and has a special interest in rural subjects.”
You see, s.e. identifies as gender queer, meaning that ou doesn’t believe in or feel that ou fits into conventional gender binaries. As such, smith, like so many other gender queer people, has chosen a new and specific pronoun by which to be referred. Both xoJane’s managing editor Corynne Cirilli and the site’s social media manager, Madeline Cronin, wrote to Nolan asking for the piece to be fixed.
And Nolan fixed it. Sort of. Instead of putting in a line or two explaining s.e.’s pronoun of choice and replacing throughout, Nolan simply struck through every “she” and wrote “ou” next to it. Like this:
“The case pinged for me because I have a lot of interest in the ongoing yoga culture wars in the west, and this was simply another piece of the puzzle,”
sheou writes today. Indeed, the case pinged for herou— it pinged very close to home.
He then posted all of the emails that Cirilli and Cronin wrote, requesting the change.
On the face of it, there’s nothing particularly wrong about what Nolan did. But the subtext is straight up nasty. 1) It’s suggesting that s.e.’s gender queer pronoun isn’t legitimate enough to stand on its own, when it could have perfectly well been clear had Nolan acknowledged his mistake up front; 2) It paints a narrative in which the xoJane staffers who asked Nolan to correct his mistake are overreacting harpies; and 3) it suggests that there’s something totally unreasonable about wanting to be properly identified.
I wonder what Nolan might do if someone misidentified his gender in a piece, or failed to respect a pretty basic tenant of his identity. Nolan seems to think because s.e.’s pronoun choice falls outside of standardized systems that it’s somehow up for ridicule.
I suspect there will be a lot of you who will say I’m overreacting, but think about how critical it is that you’re properly identified in your day-to-day life. Nolan’s tone belies the text on the page — he seems to be saying, “Look at how ridiculous this all is!” But there is absolutely nothing ridiculous about wanting to be acknowledged for the person you are. [Gawker]